Friday, December 30, 2011

¡Feliz año nuevo! with Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

It's the New Year...a time to reflect on the past and look ahead to what we intend to achieve in the coming months. Many of us will focus on our wellness, perhaps planning to lose a few pounds or simply to eat more healthfully and thoughtfully. 

Well, this soup is a great way to start the new year. It is super nutritious, loaded with vegetables and lovely seasonings. It is low calorie, yet filling. The smokiness and heat from the chipotle chile add a nice flavor component. Some research even suggests that spicy foods can slightly raise your metabolic rate and help burn a few extra calories (although not a license to eat a full chocolate cake afterwards!). If you do not have a dried chipotle chile, you can use chipotle, ancho or chili powder instead.

Tofu in this soup adds high quality plant protein. The tofu I used is from a newish St. Louis company called MOFU Soy Beanery (get it? The MO short for Missouri). The owner is a dietitian and chef that transforms fresh soybeans into an amazing tofu product. Whatever tofu brand you choose, be sure to use the extra-firm type of tofu otherwise the cubes will fall apart in the soup.  

To help dampen the heat of this somewhat spicy soup and to add a boost of texture and flavors, avocado, cheese, tortilla chips and plain yogurt make great toppings. 
Enjoy, and ¡Feliz año nuevo! 

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

1 dried chipotle chile pepper
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained (Hiltys Bee Yard, Bowling Green, MO)
2 Tbsp oil
1 white onion, coursely chopped (Yellow Wood Farm)
3 cloves garlic (Roundabout Farm)
4 cups vegetable broth
3 cups water
14 ounce package extra firm tofu (MOFU Soy Beanery, St. Louis, MO)
4 cups fresh spinach (Theis Farm, St. Louis, MO)
1 large avocado cut into cubes
2 cups tortilla chips (Gringo Salsa, St. Louis, MO)
¾ cup Mexican blend cheese
dollop of plain yogurt, optional (Windcrest Dairy, Trenton, IL)

1. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in large pot. Add onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add to blender or food processor.
2.  Break apart the chipotle chile, removing seeds and stem; combine with diced tomatoes and juice in the food processor or blender.
3. Blend all these ingredients until pureed.
4. Pour puree back into large pot, heat for about 5 minutes. Add broth and water, bring to boil, then simmer.
5. Drain tofu, pat dry and cut into ½ inch cubes. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in skillet, brown tofu cubes for about 3 minutes, then add to simmering pot.
6. Add spinach to pot, cook until greens are wilted, about 2 minutes.
7. Ladle soup into bowls, and top with avocado, tortilla chips, cheese and a dollop of plain yogurt.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The “Sky” is the limit: The Big Sky Restaurant review

A couple of days ago I met up with a friend that I had not seen for about a year. Because I love cooking so much, I do not eat out often, so when given the opportunity, I prefer to dine at restaurants that make an effort to source local foods. My friend suggested Big Sky Cafe and I was all in! We sat down, took a gander at the menu and both agreed that we would like to try everything on it! The entire menu was a reflection of the season, highlighting and giving credit to the farms and producers where the ingredients originated.

It was a difficult decision, but I decided on the creamy tomato soup and butternut squash chopped salad. My friend ordered the beans and greens soup, and the roasted chicken & smoked gouda melt. For a starter, we split an order of kale chips. Everything was incredible! The blends of flavors and balance of textures was perfect.

The lunch was delicious, the time spent with a dear friend divine.  Great food and friendship, both a source of nourishment.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Soup’s On Again- Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup

When selecting meals, I not only keep in mind taste preferences of those I am feeding (most often my husband and kids of course), but also any merits that the dish might have. I do a mental run-thru of all of the recipe ingredients that are worth incorporating into our diets. In the case of this soup recipe, everything about it is healthy, wholesome goodness and each and every ingredient is worthy.

Carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in orange colored carotenes helping with eyesight and serving as antioxidants. Garlic and onion are from the same general plant family with lots of research showing health benefits including lowered blood pressure, cholesterol, and less cancer, diabetes and heart disease risk...need I say more?  Lentils are fantastically rich in soluble fiber, folate and iron. The lemon juice and cilantro provide vitamin C…even celery provides a good amount of vitamin C, lots of vitamin K and active compounds that help with cancer prevention and lower cholesterol levels.

But the real show stoppers are ginger and curry.  Not only do these two ingredients give the soup a necessary flavor kick, they provide major health benefits. Both ginger and curry are known to be anti-inflammatory, helping to lessen the effect of any inflammation that you have festering inside your body, most often without you even knowing it until it is too late...think arthritis, Alzheimer's, cancers, heart disease. 

Ginger root:
break off what you need when buying
So, soup’s on, eat up, feel great!

Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup (adapted from Food Network Magazine, Dec 2011)

1 sweet potato, diced (Hagemann Farm)
3 or 4 carrots, chopped (St. Isidore Farm)
3 stalks celery, chopped
½ onion, chopped
¾ cup dried lentils
4 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and grated (Note: use fresh, not ginger powder)
6 cups of water
2 tsp curry powder (I bought from Penzeys Spices- not local, but definitely the place to buy spices!)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic chopped
juice from ½ lemon
½ cup cilantro, chopped

1. Put the sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, lentils, ginger and water in a slow cooker and cook on low for about 6-8 hours until vegetables are tender. 
2. Stir/mash to somewhat puree ingredients together.
3. Saute garlic & curry powder in a skillet in olive oil for about 1 minute. Stir into the soup, along with the lemon juice. Top with fresh cilantro and salt to taste.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Soup’s On! Wild Mushroom Soup

I love soup! There is something so magical about the transformation that occurs when you throw several ingredients into a pot and a few hours later...Voila! You have a meal. Soups are easy to prepare, warming, nourishing, and satisfying. The next few blog posts will feature a few of the soup recipes that I have recently tried. This one features wild mushrooms in a creamy base. As a health conscience person (and dietitian), I do not suggest cream based soups be eaten often. But if we become too restrictive with what we eat, there is a point where we begin losing the pleasure in food. Instead why not have a small bowl, sip slowly, and enjoy the flavors that have been created from a simmer.

Wild Mushroom Soup (adapted from Family Circle Nov 2011)
This soup tasted WAY better than my picture shows!
2 Tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
1 pound sliced wild mushrooms (I used Ozark Forest Shiitake mushrooms)
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped (it's still growing in the pot outside!)
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
5 cups chicken broth
¾ cups half-and-half
¼ cup dry sherry
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
black pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in stock pot; add diced onion and sauté until softened.
2. Add sliced mushrooms and thyme, cook about 5 minutes until mushrooms begin to soften.
3. Sprinkle in flour and cook for 2 minutes, continuing to stir.
4. Add chicken broth, bring to boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.
5. Stir in half-and-half, sherry, pepper and bring to simmer. Top with parsley. Served with risotto.

Note: for the half-and-half, I prefer using the real-deal-from-a-cow-only-pure-ingredients type, but fat-free half-and-half would also work if trying to lessen the fat content. For the butter, I would not use margarine…again, would stick (pun intended) to the real product.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Let’s Dish About RaDISHes

Radishes were not a favorite of mine until making this simple salad. The peppery kick of the radishes, the sweetness of the tangerine juice and the tartness of the apple make a perfect flavor combination.

The original radish salad recipe called for walnut oil in the vinaigrette, but I substituted Brazil nut oil.  A few months back, I had purchased a bottle of fair trade, organic Brazil nut oil from one of my ultimate favorite places to shop, Plowsharing Crafts The oil was an impulse buy, having no clue what I planned to do with it, but knowing it would be fun experimenting.

Although one cannot find citrus trees growing in the Midwest, citrus fruits are currently in season in other parts of the United States and are a worthwhile purchase at this time of year. I used the juice of tangerines to make the vinaigrette, but really the juice of any citrus fruit could be used depending on your taste and what is available in your area. Feel free to experiment with the juice from an orange, mandarin, grapefruit, lime, kumquat, etc. You could also use any oil, vinegar or nut that you have on hand, or that is available at your farmers market or fair trade organization.

Radish Salad with Tangerine & Brazil Nut Oil Vinaigrette (adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, Dec 2010)
3 Tbsp. tangerine juice
3 Tbsp Brazil nut oil
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup thinly sliced radishes (Biver Farms)
3 thinly sliced Granny Smith apples (Echo Valley Orchards)
Radish shoots (Claverach Farm)
¼ cup toasted walnuts (Hammon’s Black Walnuts)

Wisk together the citrus juice, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to make the vinaigrette.  Toss the sliced radishes and apples in the vinaigrette. Plate the shoots (or use lettuce), top with the radish/apple mixture, top with toasted nuts.

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